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Swimming With Legislative Sharks, Gilliard Remains Fearless
2/4/2015 4:06:33 PM

Wendell Gilliard
By Barney Blakeney

The gauntlets have been tossed to the ground as Charleston Rep. Wendell Gilliard Monday responded to allegations he tried to mislead members of the general assembly with a bill that might offer a new designation for the Arthur Ravenel Bridge.

Gilliard last week announced a resolution to designate the bridge structure and its approaches “The Sweetgrass Skyway” to honor the Lowcountry’s history, geography, flora, people, and blend of cultures while continuing to designate the bridge span as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Some legislators however have misinterpreted the resolution to mean the new designation would change the bridge’s name, Gilliard said. Daniel Island Rep. James Merrill publicly stated he felt Gilliard had been deceptive in the resolution that unanimously passed the House chamber. Mount Pleasant Sen. Larry Grooms who chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee expressing concerns about the designation, vowed to stop the resolution there.

One local Black legislator said the war of words could prove “dangerous” for Gilliard whether or not conservative legislators such as Grooms and Merrill misinterpreted the resolution. Gilliard’s challenge could play out against him as he seeks support for initiatives during the session, the legislator cautioned.

Defiantly, Gilliard issued a statement Tuesday rebutting comments attributed to Merrill in a Sunday news report. “I fear only God, not you,” he said in the statement. “Truth be told, it is very typical for most Republicans to say if you are Black and speaking out about an issue contrary to their particular perception, the strategy is to bash and make the person out to be a liar and their efforts less than honorable.”

Efforts to reach Merrill Tuesday were unsuccessful, but he reportedly has said House lawmakers were presented a summary of Gilliard’s resolution that only talked about renaming a portion of U.S. Highway 17, and not the bridge span. That’s what resulted in the unanimous vote, Merrill maintained.

Gilliard said Merrill’s assessment points to a larger problem. Merrill wasn’t paying attention or just didn’t take the time to read the resolution, Gilliard said. Another legislator said bills and resolutions sometimes can be extraordinarily lengthy. Members of the general assembly usually rely on verbal explanations from the authors or other colleagues to determine if they should support a measure, he said.

Gilliard said he never indicated, and his resolution never mentioned the bridge’s name would change. “That’s just crazy thinking,” Gilliard said.

Despite his good intentions, the anonymous legislator said Gilliard is treading in shark infested waters. “He could put himself in a position where it might be hard for him to get anything through,” the legislator said.

Gilliard said he will continue to sponsor bills to help the poor and middle class access the quality of life they deserve. “I was elected to serve and my objective is to do so to the best of my ability,” he said.

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